Pickleball Back Pain: Causes, Exercises, and Prevention Tips

Est. Reading: 5 minutes

Pickleball is less fast-paced than tennis, but it also requires quick movement in different directions. You must jump, twist, and bend on the court like any physical sport. It can lead to discomfort and lower back pain, regardless of your age.

Sadly, back pain seems inevitable if the play is too intense. But don't worry; there are several ways that can help you prevent that. This guide has some back exercises you can do before the game and safety tips while playing pickleball.

Common Causes of Pickleball Back Pain

Again, pickleball is filled with dynamic movements and repetitive rotations. While these actions can be exhilarating, they also place significant stress on the lower back. Here, we'll delve into some common reasons why pickleball players may encounter back pain.

Extended Poor Posture

Maintaining a hunched or rounded back posture while playing pickleball can strain the muscles and structures in the spine. It usually starts in the ready position, where you must bend your knees and lean towards the balls of your feet. 

If you're in this position for so long, you're putting significant force on your back muscles. It also affects the natural curvature of your spine, especially if you have pre-existing back conditions. 

Improper Technique

With an incorrect form, executing your strokes and movements can place excessive stress on your back. If you tend to lean too forward or have a wider stance, you will force your hips and shoulders when rotating, causing your back and neck to hurt. 

If you have very stiff hips, your spine requires more motion while playing, which also heightens the risk of pain and injury. It could be worse if you're not adequately prepared.

Repetitive and Continuous Dinking

According to USA Pickleball, repetitive dinking is probably the most unforgiving shot on the lower back. As you most likely know by now, dinks are soft shots and are performed near the non-volley line and require you to stay low. 

To avoid getting into the kitchen, you might not realize that you're already bending with your back instead of your knees. Some dinking battles also last for a few minutes, which adds to the spine abuse.

5 Back Exercises for Pickleball Players

To help prevent low back pain after the game, you should engage in dynamic core stabilization exercises that are helpful for athletes. Before hitting the pickleball court, do a thorough warm-up routine and dynamic stretches focusing on the back, hips, and legs. 

Please note that I'm not a physical therapist or a sports medicine doctor. I just happened to discover Doctor Jo, a physical therapist and a very famous YouTuber. Below is a summary of her recommendations that can help you prevent back pain:

#1 Knee to Chest Stretch

Lie down on your back straight and prop your knees up. You can also slide one leg down if it feels more comfortable. Then, slowly lift your knee towards your chest for about 30 seconds. If you have a knee problem, you can pull your leg to provide comfort. Afterward, repeat the same steps for your other knee and three times for each side.

#2 Supine Pelvic Tilt

While lying on your back, knees up, and feet flat on the ground, slightly rotate your lower back away from the floor. Keep breathing slowly, and don't lift your body with your legs. Then, tighten your abdominal muscles for about 3 seconds to keep your back flat. You should not feel pressure on your legs but on your pelvic floor muscles.

#3 Supine Bridging

In the same position, bring your bottom off the floor, but use your legs this time. Lift your body and try to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Maintain this position for about 3 seconds, then return downwards slowly. You can also do some repetitions as long as you feel comfortable. With this simple exercise routine, you are strengthening your glutes and lower back muscles.

#4 Clamshells Exercise

Here, you lie on one (left or right) side and the other on top if you need to work on this. Bend your knees, but keep your legs and feet together. Then, slowly lift your knee for about 3 seconds and gently bring it down. Just make sure your hips are perpendicular to the ground. You can place your hand on your hip to maintain that position. You can also do the same on the other side if you want to.

#5 Child's Pose

Also known as the prayer stretch, the child's pose helps you stretch your back and is great for your shoulders and knees. To do this exercise, simply kneel and sit on your heels for about 30 seconds. You can stretch your arms forward before sitting or vice versa. Regardless of your choice, make sure your feet point forward. Also, try to rest your head on your folded arms or the floor.

To help you visualize them, watch Doctor Jo's tutorial video below.

Back Pain Prevention Tips While Playing Pickleball

No matter how often you do back exercises to strengthen your core, you can still hurt your back if you don't observe safety precautions on the court. So, during the game, follow these tips religiously.

#1 Practice Proper Technique

Proper technique includes positioning your chest up and bending your knees (instead of your back) in your ready position, especially at the kitchen line. It can also reduce the load on your back. Watch how experienced players move on the court. You can also practice in your garage or do some squats until your body gets used to it.

#2 Use Elongated Paddles

There are two types of pickleball paddles - standard and elongated. The former provides a balanced reach on the hitting surface, while the latter offers more reach. Therefore, elongated paddles are better for preventing back pain when reaching for the ball. However, they are more applicable to experienced players than beginners.

#3 Dink With Caution

Dinking looks relaxing, but prolonged and repetitive exchanges can hurt your back. To counter this, avoid hunching over excessively during the dink battle and bend through your knees instead. This position allows your legs to absorb the forces while keeping your spine straight. Most importantly, it gives you more freedom to twist your body.

#4 Use Proper Footwear

Wearing running shoes for pickleball is definitely a no-no, mainly because they are only designed for forward and backward movements. Some might say tennis shoes are fine, but not really. You see, tennis involves lateral movements, while pickleball requires lateral and forward movements. Hence, make sure you wear proper pickleball shoes.

#5 Use a Ball Retriever

Yes, there's a thing called pickleball ball retriever. This paddle attachment has a suction cup to pick up the ball for you. By attaching one at the end of your paddle handle, using one, you no longer need to bend too much just to pick balls. This inexpensive accessory protects not only your back but also your hips and knees.

#6 Listen to Your Back

Your back doesn't speak but can signal you if it hurts. Ask for a time-out if you're experiencing back pain during a rally. According to the time-out rules, a player or team has two time-outs for 11- or 15-point games and three for a 21-point game. Each time-out period may last up to 1 minute, so maximize it and rest well.

#7 Know Your Limits

Last but not least, know your limits and don't push yourself too hard. If you feel uncomfortable on the day before the game, reschedule it. If playing five times a week is causing your back pain, reduce it to twice or thrice a week. Most importantly, visit a doctor to know if you're really fit to play pickleball. Prevention is always better than cure.

Final Thoughts

Pickleball was invented so everybody could enjoy it. But, because people have different body conditions, not everyone can play with the same movements. If you're new to the sport, don't assume it will be easy on your back. Play slowly and increase speed gradually. If your body doesn't respond well on the court, maybe pickleball is not for you.

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